The MLB draft started Monday night with 78 players being selected by the 30 big league clubs. Seventeen of those players had previously featured in the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase, according to Greg Sabers — PG's Vice President of Scouting and Showcases.
With this year's edition of the event having started Saturday at LakePoint, Sabers was at the Bartow County baseball hotbed to see who could join those players in the next few years.
The best players from across the United States in the 2020 and 2021 classes converged on the complex for the showcase, which is essentially split into two, two-day events for six teams apiece. Saturday and today feature the first six teams with Monday and Tuesday playing host to the other six.
"We're watching these guys all the time. All the tournaments we have here and all over the country, different events, we're always looking for those guys," Sabers said. "This is the cream of the crop that we've seen, that we've selected [and] that the college coaches and the scouts want to see. ... Everything that we do all around the country and all these big tournaments, this is the best we've seen and we bring them in here."
Unlike tournament settings, the event includes batting practice, fielding workouts and 60-yard dashes to put raw tools on display. There are also games — three for each team — to show off the prospects' in-game skill.
Sabers believes it makes the event and others like it — including next week's national showcase for upperclassmen for which Cartersville's Mason Barnett and Preston Welchel were selected — invaluable to scouts and coaches.
"It's a great thing about a showcase is that you get to see the BP, the way they swing the bat in BP, the way they throw in the field," Sabers said. "Sometimes the shortstop might not get a ball when you're watching him, or an outfielder, you get to see him throw, you get to see how they run, you get those measurables. Then get the game play and you can go back to the tournaments later on and evaluate what you saw from the tools at the showcase. ... It's kind of a combination. Showcase is a great setup for one or two days to see, really, how the tools stand out and what a player can do."
It's an event that regularly draws coaches from the top college programs in the country. Sixteen Division-I teams are competing in Super Regionals this week, but those who missed out are getting a jump on the recruiting trail.
Ole Miss hitting coach Mike Clement would much rather be helping his team try to reach the College World Series. But just days after his season ended, Clement was out at LakePoint on Saturday, enjoying what he saw from the top rising juniors and sophomores in the country.
"It's been good, it's good every year," Clement said of the junior national showcase. "It's a must-see for us. We have to come see, usually, the top talent for the underclassmen in the country. We have to be here and see it."
When it comes to scouting the younger guys, there's generally a little more legwork and a little more guesswork than with older players. But in the new landscape of travel baseball, teams need to pinpoint talent early and look to land the top talent before someone else does.
There's a reason roughly half the players at the showcase have already verbally committed to a school. It means Clement and Co. need to be quick to pinpoint players to target.
"I think you have to look at the stuff that is not coachable," said Clement, who joined Ole Miss prior to the 2015 season. "You're talking about bat speed, foot speed, arm strength — although some of that stuff comes along with it — it's really hard to coach that stuff. You look at those kind of intangible things, go from there and build off there. Definitely do all the background on character and go from there."
There were plenty of top-level programs joining Ole Miss at the event. In the press box alone, there were coaches with fellow SEC programs like Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee, along with other Power-5 schools such as Miami, Florida State and Purdue.
In and amongst those major-conference programs, people like Kennesaw State's Trey Fowler took in the action. The reality is that few players of the quality seen at this showcase will wind up with the Owls — or any mid-major for that matter.
That doesn't keep Fowler from regularly scouring LakePoint for the best talent Georgia and surrounding states have to offer. The hitting coach and recruiting coordinator for KSU, Fowler has seen both sides of having a facility of LakePoint's caliber just up the road.
"Some people view it as a blessing and a curse that it's this close, so there's always something going on so you feel like you always have to be there," Fowler said. "But for me, I love the game of baseball. I eat, sleep and breathe it. I think it's awesome. ... We're competing with a lot, but it's a great opportunity to have this right in our backyard."
Even if it's quite a bit further for Clement to drive, he sees the Emerson-based complex as one of the top amateur baseball facilities in the country. Although, it clearly depends on the immense talent Perfect Game is able to draw to these events.
"It's remarkable just because of the amount of players you can see in one setting," Clement said. "It doesn't get a whole lot better than this. You can kind of come camp out here and see a lot of games and a lot of talent."
It's entirely possible that a future first-round draft pick takes the field at LakePoint during this showcase. Frankly, given the high-caliber of players to previously feature in the event, you can almost guarantee it.
"Got a great group of really talented players from all over the country," Sabers said of this year's event. "It's always fun at this age, they really start getting strength. You know, they're just finishing up their freshman, sophomores years of high school and really start developing into the draft prospects.
"It's fun watching them and comparing them to the guys we've seen in the past like Francisco Lindor and Lance McCullers and trying to find the next one at this event."